While the two countries celebrate the seven-decade long, rewarding and valuable Pakistan-China friendship, the writer reflects on the special gesture of Jiang Zemin, the Chinese president (1993-2003), inviting his old Pakistani friends to the dinner during his state visit to Pakistan in December 1996.
China has all along extended substantial financial, technological and industrial assistance to Pakistan. It has helped to establish a sound capital goods industry equipped with versatile facilities to augment the manufacturing of machinery and equipment. Pakistan-China relationship could be traced back to a long time which has resulted in establishing a number of monumental projects such as Karakorum Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex, Heavy Electrical Complex, Heavy Industries Taxila, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the nuclear power plants.
Pakistan enjoys unique distinction in the fact that Jiang Zemin has been an old personal friend to many locals. As leader of a high-level Chinese delegation of the then First Ministry of Machine-Building Industry, he visited Pakistan during March 23-April 21, 1976. Stationed at Taxila, he was responsible for taking major technical and administrative decisions for the commissioning of the Foundry & Forge Works of the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC). The Mechanical Works of HMC had already commenced production in 1971, whereas the new factory was established to produce heavy castings and forgings to supplement the HMC production programme.
During his stay in Pakistan, Jiang Zemin, a professional electrical engineer, developed close fraternal relationship, not only with the senior colleagues but also with the factory workers of HMC, having left on them everlasting impression of his personality, foresight, wisdom and perception.
These profound characteristics reinforced the ever-growing Pakistan-China friendship, and motivated the Pakistani engineers and technicians to work dedicatedly for a strong Pakistan, learning from the Chinese experience. Thus, the Foundry & Forge Works was completed under the leadership of Mr Jiang Zemin within the time schedule and without any cost overruns, something uncommon in our country for a project of this size. Jiang Zemin returned to China to become the Minister In-charge of the Electronics Industry in Beijing.
The inauguration of production at the HMC’s Foundry & Forge Works was performed by the prime minister Z. A. Bhutto in 1976. On the occasion, Bhutto highlighted the role of heavy engineering sector in the following words: “The role of engineering sector, particularly of heavy engineering, is of paramount importance in developing economy. Meaningful industrial growth can only start after base is provided. Because of nature of this industry gestation period is long and returns are slow, but equally they are essential”. And indeed, Heavy Mechanical Complex has immensely contributed towards industrialisation and achieving self-reliant economy since the last half-a-century.
Many of old colleagues of Jiang Zemin, some of them having been retired from the service or relocated meanwhile, were pleasantly surprised when they received an invitation from the Chinese president for an exclusive dinner and informal meeting with him at Aiwan-e-Sadr, Islamabad on December 01, 1996.
This special gesture of remembrance by the Chinese dignitary was reflective of sincerity, love and affection the Chinese attach towards Pakistan and the Pakistanis.
Chinese president’s visit was a big event in the brotherly relations as the leaders of the two countries decided to establish an all-round cooperative friendship into the 21st century.
His stay in Islamabad was for two nights only, yet he decided to have an exclusive dinner with us, not accepting other high-level meetings and programmes proposed by the Pakistan side. In fact, the meeting of the visiting president with his old friends was pre-planned on the Chinese side. The Chinese ambassador had asked the writer more than two months back to prepare a list of such invitees, more than a dozen in number, ascertaining the new addresses of the retired or relocated persons that Jiang Zemin befriended when he was in Taxila.
Jiang Zemin, in casual and joyful mood, appeared to be enjoying himself in the company of old friends. Surprisingly, he recognised well all of them, mentioning their respective names and assignments of all these engineers of old times, and acquainted with their new positions as well. He also enquired about others who could not attend the event, either no more being alive or not traceable. The dinner, which was also attended by the Chinese ambassador and another two Chinese diplomats, was so exclusive that other members of the delegation accompanying the Chinese president, and also the protocol and press staff of the Pakistan side, had dinner in a separate room.
Remarkably, he was as young as twenty years back, rather looking even younger. First, he spoke formally and briefly in the Chinese, translated for us, and then switched over to English for informal talks. A well-read person, he talked at the dinner about the books he had lately read on engineering, economics and arts. He had also visited various industries in Lahore and Karachi including Pakistan Steel Mills. It was amazing that he recalled his visits there, remembering some engineers of the steel mills and the sightseeing places he had been to. Interestingly, after a while, he spoke in Urdu that he had learned while living in the HMC housing colony. But he surprised us all more when he talked of Noor Jahan’s melodies, and remembered listening to the ghazals sang by Gulbahar Bano, a famous singer at that time, who was invited at the HMC colony club.
Though informally, the president reiterated his government’s commitment for technological and economic assistance to Pakistan, particularly in the heavy engineering sector. At the same time, he vowed to continue offering Pakistan the nuclear-related aid despite the American restrictions. Next day, four agreements were signed between the two governments including the one on promotion of economic and technical cooperation. The Chinese President’s remembering his local friends even after twenty years reflected a saga of sincere, substantive and consistent Pakistan-China relationship, which is galvanising day by day.
The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation